Global clubfoot experts to convene in South Africa during this year’s ‘Disability Awareness Month’
Celebrated annually, ‘Disability Awareness Month’ takes place globally from 3 November to 3 December. Its goal – to raise awareness for those suffering from disabilities, remove barriers and improve the quality of life of people with disabilities through concrete action.
In line with this, 21-23 November will see an inaugural Clubfoot Conference taking place in South Africa. A first for Africa, and made even more significant due to it falling within ‘Disability Awareness Month’, the focus of this conference will specifically tackle and address the very treatable disability that is clubfoot.
Karen Moss, founder and director of the non-profit organization Steps (conference host and South African-based NPO supporting babies born with clubfoot across South Africa, and further) says: “The incidence of clubfoot in southern and east Africa is estimated at around one in every 500 births, making it the second-highest incidence in the world. Clubfoot often bears a stigma, and some patients are not brought for treatment. But clubfoot is a treatable condition with early intervention by trained health professionals! South Africa is recognized as a country that has a remarkable clubfoot clinic model that can be replicated in other resource-restricted countries; hence the international interest in this conference.”
The conference line-up will see speakers from no fewer than 18 different countries – 13 from Africa, one from the Middle East, three from Asia, one from South America, three from the UK and North America and two representing multiple countries in Africa.
“As the first clubfoot conference in Africa, it brings with it enormous opportunity,” says Moss. “Not only will it provide a platform for global experts and colleagues to come together to discuss treatment options but, as essentially, it will provide a platform for all stakeholders – including patients’ families, to receive cutting-edge information. Clubfoot is one of the few disabling conditions that can be reversed by treatment. It is essential that parents and caregivers know that treatment is not only possible, but accessible.”
Clubfoot is a common birth defect that results in one or both feet (unilateral or bilateral) twisted inward and pointed downward. The foot is rigid and cannot be pushed back into the correct position. Most children born with clubfoot are not missing any bones, muscles, or connective tissue. It is also a congenital condition, meaning that when it occurs it is always present at birth.
One of the keynote speakers at the Clubfoot Africa Conference, Dr Mathew Varghese (head of orthopedics, St Stephen’s Hospital, New Delhi, India) says: “India and South Africa face similar challenges when it comes to the treatment of clubfoot across both urban and rural areas. This is an excellent opportunity to collaborate and share ideas, in turn strengthening the level of care we are all able to provide.”
Steps Clubfoot Care operates in South Africa, and supports regional clubfoot programs. Founded in 2005 by Karen Mara Moss, whose own son was born with clubfoot, its goal has always been to introduce and promote the non-invasive Ponseti Method of clubfoot treatment and to support families going through treatment. “We support 38 partner clinics in the South African state health sector by training healthcare workers, focusing on advocacy and supplying clubfoot braces,” says Moss. Clubfoot clinic coordinators are trained by Steps representatives on parent education and clinics are supplied with parent education leaflets, posters, training, and medical devices. Steps also mentors and supports clubfoot providers in neighboring countries with educational resources, training and medical devices.
“Our partner clinics do incredible work, and the statistics speak for themselves. The last year (1 October 2021 – end September 2022) has seen a significant increase in numbers, with no fewer than 835 new patients enrolled across our programs and a staggering 13,739 patient visits supported. And the numbers keep on climbing! This, again, reinforces South Africa as the ideal venue for a conference of this nature,” says Moss.
Dr Isidor Ngayomela (MD and master of medicine in orthopedics and trauma: MMedOrthopaedics, Tanzania), another conference keynote speaker, says: “Limited resources, across Africa’s extensive rural areas, has impacted the accessibility of essential clubfoot treatment programs offering the non-invasive and highly successful Ponseti method. Conferences such as these, together with extended training opportunities and the inclusion of affiliated healthcare professionals, will go a long way to ensuring the furtherance of these essential treatment programs across many communities with restricted resources.” In Tanzania, the inclusion of affiliated healthcare professionals has managed the treatment of no fewer than 8,700 children across 47 clinics.
“Over the past two years, we have also benefitted from working with specialists around the world who have shared their skills and expertise with us via webinars,” continues Moss. “This year’s conference brings with it the opportunity to reach an even wider audience and to share learnings and ways to ensure that every single child born with clubfoot is treated and able to go on to live and enjoy a mobile life, without disability.”
For more information, please visit Clubfoot Africa Conference.